SB475: Protecting the education establishment, at the expense of student learning

Robert Fellner

A new bill would make it harder for schools to dismiss underperforming teachers, while also reducing the importance of student learning in teacher evaluations — which is just the latest example of how unions influence and advocate for legislation to their benefit, at the expense of student learning.

Under existing law, a measure of student learning called “pupil growth” accounts for 40 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation rating, with instructional practice and professional responsibilities comprising the remaining 60 percent. Senate Bill 475, however, would make it so that student learning accounts for only 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

While both of Nevada’s major teacher unions agree that student learning should be less of a factor, the state teachers union (NSEA) thinks SB475 doesn’t go far enough, and recently voted to make student learning account for only 10 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

It is worth remembering just how lax these evaluations already are. Last year, nearly 99 percent of teachers received an effective or highly effective rating. Only the bottom 1 percent received either a “developing” or “ineffective” rating.

This leads to the other major change that SB475 would make.  Currently, schools can dismiss probationary teachers who receive a “developing” or “ineffective” rating at the end of the year. SB475 would deny schools that option for those teachers with a “developing” rating, and only allow schools the option to dismiss those probationary teachers who are ranked as “ineffective.”

As a point of reference, only 0.1 percent, or 25 out of the nearly 20,000 teachers surveyed, were ranked “ineffective” for the 2017-18 school year.

Existing law also requires that post-probationary teachers return to probationary status if they are rated as “developing” or “ineffective” for two consecutive years. SB475 would make it so only those rated “ineffective” would have to serve an additional probationary period.

In other words, despite an evaluation system where 99 percent of employees are already rated as effective or better, the unions want to weaken the standards even further.

Unfortunately, while an evaluation system that protects 99.9 percent of teachers from even the possibility of consequences is a clear win for the union, it is devastating for the children who are stuck with an underperforming teacher.

This highlights why collective bargaining for teachers is so harmful: it perverts the democratic process such that the union’s interests dictate public policy, rather than student learning and well-being.

Other examples of this dynamic include the recent efforts to gut the Opportunity Scholarship and Read by 3 programs. Both efforts mirror SB475 in that they seek to protect unions from competition and accountability, at great harm to students.

Unfortunately, unions have vastly more political influence than students and parents, which explains why researchers at the University of Texas recently found that, “unionization has a powerful negative influence on educational outcomes.”

In their ranking of the 50 states’ educational performance, economics professor Stan Liebowitz and research fellow Matthew Kelly determined that union strength “has a substantial and statistically significant negative relationship with student achievement.”

The effect was so strong, in fact, that Nevada’s education ranking could improve by 23 positions — from 44th to 21st — by simply restoring the state’s original prohibition on public-sector collective bargaining.

The Liebowitz and Kelly study aligns with the findings of other researchers, who have in recent years employed advances in research methodologies to better analyze the effect collective bargaining has on student learning.

The results of that research are summarized below:

  • “We find robust evidence that exposure to teacher collective bargaining laws worsens the future labor market outcomes of men: in the first 10 years after passage of a duty-to-bargain law, male earnings decline by $2,134 (or 3.93 percent) per year and hours worked decrease by 0.42 hours per week. The earnings estimates for men indicate that teacher collective bargaining reduces earnings by $213.8 billion in the US annually.”
  • “This article focuses on the public schools, which are among the most numerous government agencies in the country, and investigates whether collective bargaining by teachers—the key bureaucrats—affects the schools’ capacity to educate children. Using California data, analysis shows that, in large school districts, restrictive labor contracts have a very negative impact on academic achievement, particularly for minority students.”
  • “We provide remarkably strong evidence that students in states with strong teachers unions have lower proficiency rates than students in states with weak state-wide teacher unions.”

These findings support the common sense notion that limiting competition and accountability, as unions aim to do, worsens the quality of education provided.

Nevada legislators should remember that their first duty is to students and oppose SB475, or any other education bill, that does not put their needs first.

Robert Fellner

Robert Fellner

Director of Policy

Robert Fellner is NPRI’s policy director and joined the Institute in December 2013. Robert has written extensively on the issue of transparency in government. He has also conducted legal research and assisted in crafting legal arguments for numerous public records-related lawsuits, including one which prevailed at the Nevada Supreme Court, resulting in a landmark decision that protected and expanded Nevadans’ rights to access and inspect government records.

An expert on government compensation and its impact on taxes, Robert has authored multiple studies on public pay and pensions. He has been published in Business Insider, Forbes.com, the Las Vegas Review Journal, the Los Angeles Times, RealClearPolicy.com, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, ZeroHedge.com and elsewhere.

Robert has lived in Las Vegas since 2005 when he moved to Nevada to become a professional poker player. Robert has had a remarkably successfully poker career including two top 10 World Series of Poker finishes and being ranked #1 in the world at 10/20 Pot-Limit Omaha cash games.

Additionally, his economic analysis on the minimum wage won first place in a 2011 George Mason University essay contest. He also independently organized a successful grassroots media and fundraising effort for a 2012 presidential candidate, before joining the campaign in an official capacity.